Late eighteenth-century science aimed to render the body transparent; in contrast, gothic novels of the same period often represented the body as an untrustworthy source of information about the self. In these novels, characters may often be reduced to a bodily or facial map, which may give clues as to personal character, motivation and intention. Yet the practice of reading the body – as practiced in sciences such as physiognomy, phrenology or criminology – also comes under intense interrogation. Through disastrous mis-readings, misdiagnoses and misidentifications, gothic novelists demonstrate how conflating body and self is deeply threatening to ideas of ‘unique’ personhood.
This essay discusses the ways in which different models of historical and social development, and especially of the relationship of the Gothic past to the present, might be seen to structure – and help us now to interpret – eighteenth-century Gothic fiction. It begins with an account of the representation of ‘Gothick days’ in James Beattie‘s poem The Minstrel (1771–4), and then gives an overview of how‘ Scottish’ conjectural histories attributed a pivotal modernizing role to feudalism and chivalry, in some cases defining an exceptional Gothic legacy with particular reference to the agency and influence of women. The essay concludes by suggesting that critical attention to different accounts of social development, and contemporary ‘histories of women’, might help to provide a better literary-historical map of eighteenth-century Gothic fiction, and a richer sense of the cultural and political work that that fiction may have performed.
Concerns of linguistic, cultural and military incursion from France emerge more frequently in the wake of the Seven Years’ War. In the literary arena, one of the ways in which these concerns are marked is through the highly-contested national stakes of chivalry. This essay argues that these national stakes of chivalry are negotiated in the realm of the Gothic romance in a particularly fluid and dynamic manner. Addressing recent critical assumptions about the conservatism inherent in prose treatments of medieval chivalry, the essay explores the possibility that Gothic romance recuperates a more positive version of chivalry in the wake of the famous Burke/Wollstonecraft revolutionary debate of 1790.
This article proposes that the popularly held model of ‘Gothic’ writings emergence in the Eighteenth Century is too partial: it tends to privilege prose fiction written in England in the latter part of the century. As a corrective, the article looks at poetry written in Scotland across the century, seeking not origins for ‘the Gothic’ as a transhistorical literary mode of expression, but emergent treatments of the supernatural that fed back into the literature of the period. It argues that poetry in eighteenth-century Scotland develops well-established indigenous supernatural tropes, especially that of the ‘ghaist’ or ghost.
Gothic Melodrama and the Aesthetic of Silence in Thomas Holcroft‘s A Tale of Mystery
Focusing on melodrama and on Thomas Holcroft‘s exemplary A Tale of Mystery (1802) in particular, this essay proposes a reinterpretation of Gothic drama and theatre as constitutively characterized by interruptions of comprehension. The tribulations of its persecuted protagonist Francisco are read in the context of the court trial of a real-life Francisco, who lived in London in 1802 and was one of the ‘stars’ in contemporary newspaper reports from the Old Bailey. Combining different generic and tonal modes, Romantic-period Gothic melodrama capitalized on explicitness and hyperbole, as well as on materializations of ethics and sentiment through their overt exhibition on stage or ‘ostension’. At the same time, it emphasized absence, silence, dematerialization and dissolution. With its continuously deferred revelations,and ostensions of the unsaid, A Tale of Mystery is a significant investment in an aesthetic of the unsaid that is central to a definition of Gothic on stage.
This article seeks to provide an account of the political biases at stake in the conceptualisation of medieval English history in Ethelwina, Or The House of Fitz-Auburne (1799), the first fiction of the prolific Gothic romancer-turned-Royal Body Guard T. J. Horsley, Curties. Having considered Curties‘s portrayal of the reign of King Edward III in the narrative in relation to formal historiographies of the period, the article turns to address the politics of Curties‘s appropriation of Shakespeare‘s Hamlet.